Hypoglycemia Without Diabetes: Causes & Testing

Instructor: Leasha Roy

Leasha is licensed as a registered nurse and clinical nurse specialist. She has over 17 years of nursing experience in a variety of settings and roles including long-term care, acute care, critical care, education, and leadership.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a condition often associated with diabetes. However, this phenomenon can also occur for various other reasons outside of diabetes. This lesson will review some of the most common reasons hypoglycemia can occur without diabetes.

What is Hypoglycemia

Have you ever missed a meal or not eaten for a long time and felt tired, weak, or just out of it? You simply couldn't think straight, focus, or maybe even stay alert. That's probably because your blood glucose was low; you may even have been hypoglycemic. Hypoglycemia is the medical term for low blood glucose (or blood sugar). Generally, the normal range for blood glucose is 70-110 mg/dL, therefore hypoglycemia is when the blood glucose falls below 70 mg/dL. Blood glucose is usually measured by obtaining a small sample of blood by pricking a fingertip and placing it in a machine (glucose monitor) for interpretation. Hypoglycemia can be a serious situation if the blood glucose drops too low and can even result in death if left untreated.

Blood glucose monitor
BG monitor

How can something as simple as sugar be so important to life, you may ask? Well, blood sugar is very important to maintaining life. Blood carries glucose to all cells of the body to provide energy needed to perform all life functions. Think about the example above; while your blood glucose may not have been low enough to be considered hypoglycemia, it was lower than what your body required to function at your norm. Another example may be a battery-operated toy. When the toy has a new, fully charged battery it functions great, but what happens when that battery starts to get low? The toy slows down and becomes sluggish until eventually when the battery dies, the toy stops altogether.

Some other symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Tiredness
  • Fast hear beat
  • Paleness
  • Confusion
  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Headache
  • Irritability

Causes of Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is most often associated with diabetes, but it can also occur outside of this disease. Normally the body regulates blood glucose levels using either insulin or glucagon from the pancreas. If the pancreas detects a high blood glucose, such as after a meal, it releases insulin. On the other hand, if the pancreas detects a low blood glucose, perhaps like after physical activity, it releases glucagon. These substances then either decrease or increase the blood glucose level to maintain it in a normal range.

Blood glucose cycle
BG cycle

Now that we have a basic understanding of how glucose is regulated, why does hypoglycemia happen? We saw a few causes above, but here are the most common causes of low blood glucose:

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account